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Botnet-harbouring survey fails to accounts for sinkholes

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SANS - Survey on application security programs

Updated Damballa has pulled its original blog post after admitting that the methodology of its botnet survey was incorrect. The security firm's analysis of active, malicious botnet command and control servers ignored the existence of deliberately established sinkholes, rendering its findings misleading.

In particular it misrepresented data about German hosting firm 1&1 initially concluding it was one of the hosting services most abused by cybercrooks. In reality, the hosting firm has worked closely with law enforcement and anti-abuse initiatives to run botnet sinkholes for the last two years. Some of these sinkholes are associated with the Torpig banking trojan. A 1&1 spokesman told H-Security that its network was clean of bonnet command and control servers, a far cry from the incorrect one in 10 of all botnet control claim originally cited by Damballa.

We repeated contacted Damballa for clarification about whether anything could be salvaged from its survey but the firm is yet to respond. We remain puzzled why Damballa failed to consider how the use of the well established security practice of sinkholling, which it uses itself, into account.

The US, Germany and France rank as the top three countries for hosting botnet command and control servers.

Countries such as China and Russia that (for better and mostly worse) tend to be most associated with hacking, spamming and cybercrime rank far below Western countries in a list compiled by net security firm Damballa.

For the first half of 2010, almost a quarter of botnet CnC servers were hosted by service providers in the US, with the top three countries (US - 23.9 per cent, Germany - 17.9 per cent and France - 8.6 per cent) hosting more than half of all CnC servers.

"Half of the servers used by cyber-criminals for the purpose of controlling their botnet empires are located in commercial hosting facilities within countries not traditionally associated with this kind of crime," writes Gunter Ollmann, VP Research at Damballa.

"The ability to host a server is typically independent of where the criminals are actually located and the type of victims they are trying to capture."

Internet hosting firms 1&1 Internet AG in Germany and AT&T have unwittingly become favourite control points for cybercrooks, according to Damballa. 1&1 Internet alone accounts for more than one in 10 botnet command and control servers.

"ISPs and hosting providers listed in the top 10 do not necessarily conduct criminal practices, but they have found themselves in a position of being 'preferred' by the criminals operating the botnets," said Ollman.

"This preference may be due to a very broad range of reasons. Regardless, the hosting providers within the top-10 may wish to investigate what makes them so attractive to criminals and should strive to become less so over time."

The publication of Damballa's research coincides with a major botnet operation in the Netherlands on Monday, involving the takedown of servers associated with the infamous Bredolab botnet. ®

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